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A letter from Ukraine

Message from Olena Apchel, spokeperson for SEMA-Ukraine
March 8, 2024

A letter from Ukraine

Dear friends of Ukraine! Hello! My name is Olena Apchel

I am an activist, I am Ukrainian, I am European, I am a woman, and I am an insurgent. Thank you very much for opening your hearts to listen to these few minutes of my thoughts.

My generation is the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren of those who lived through the Second World War, as we reflect on it, we keep repeating "never again". But my generation is also the generation that has witnessed wars in Afghanistan, Yemen, Burkina Faso, Libya, Iran, Ichkeria, Syria, and Georgia.

We have been at war with Russia for the past 10 years, and it is crucial to highlight that the war hasn’t been happening for two years but for ten.

I respect the economic, political, and social problems of every state or individual in the world. I understand some of the reasons why it was difficult for the world to recognize that for eight years, with the silent consent of other states, Russians killed and tortured Ukrainians. During the first eight years of Russia's war against Ukraine and the last two years of the full-scale invasion, which the world has already begun to pay attention to, we have realized that human rights are not fought once and for all, as we tried to agree after the World War II. This is not something we take for granted.

I was born in a country that has never been an empire, but my country has been divided, used and appropriated by different empires from different sides throughout history. And in order to manifest and preserve our identity, my multinational, multireligious and multicultural people have constantly risen up and fought, because we love peace and value freedom more than life itself.

My great-grandmother left me with the transgenerational trauma of violence, covered by perverse concepts of "tradition". My grandmother left me and my mother with the transgenerational trauma of collectivization and the Holodomor, the three waves of the Great Hunger organized by the Soviet empire at the beginning of the twentieth century. My mother's generation became the generation of concealment, avoidance, the generation of lonely trauma, and the generation of silence.

Ten years ago, I was 27 when the values of the transfeminist revolution, along with a new ethic of communication, emancipation, hope for justice and visibility, began to seep into the reality of my generation. Ten years ago, when I was 27, we were attacked by the Russians and a war started in my country. But it was so long ago that I don't really remember what I did before the war and what I believed in.

The reality of war is fundamentally different from the reality of peace. Over the past ten years, our language has changed: occupation, shelling, shelter, offensive, air raid, haemostatic, torture, mass grave, helmet, filtration camp ─ these are the words we use every day now.

War also revises reality. It returns things to their original meanings. This is an X-ray room, which includes the IAEA, the United Nations, the European Union, the OSCE, humanistic European philosophy, and feminism. And in this extreme tension, values are being revised and rather often  they do not stand a chance of passing the test.

Ukrainians have empirically proved that neither peaceful protests nor words of deep worry and preoccupation work effectively.

I learned about myself that I do not have the privilege of feminist pacifism.

My thoughts are no longer about when the war will end, but rather about when Ukraine will win.

My thoughts are not about how to survive, but what kind o punishment all Russians must face for their crimes.

My thoughts are about the fact that this reality is irreversible, that we already need to prepare ourselves for the fact that after the victory we will be facing ten, twenty, fifty years of reconstruction, that we will be a society with thousands of veterans, female veterans, internally displaced persons, refugees, orphans, widows, and widowers. And this fervor of feminist activism of reconstruction and sisterly support should be extended for life and passed on to the next generations.

And I would like to leave my daughters and sisters the transgenerational non-silence, post-traumatic growth, the voice of an insurgent and the actions of a woman soldier. Because I am not a victim, I am the one who survived and the one who revolted.

I would like to pass on the spirit and the stories of how my sisters from the public organization SEMA Ukraine, of which I am a member, survived and rose up. These are women and girls who have survived sexual violence during the war and are learning to regain their dignity from other survivors from around the world.

I strongly condemn all violations of international law committed against women and girls in all military conflicts in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Yemen, Mali, Ichkeria, Kosovo, Sudan, Sakartvelo, and Syria.

I stand in solidarity with all the women and girls of the world who have experienced violence, I am proud of all the survivors, I support all those who speak out and I stand in solidarity with all those who have not yet decided to speak out.

In my country, the Russian military has been using gender-based violence as a genocidal weapon of war for the past 10 years. It is a systematic weapon for control and demonstration of power. The Russian military uses violence against women, men and children. But women suffer the most. These are not isolated cases. Only a few hundred people have dared to testify to the Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine. And we know that we are talking about tens of thousands of victims. People do not turn to the police because they are afraid of stigmatization and conviction, and they do not have a sense of trust and safety. That is why it is so important to unite, not to be silent. It is also important to learn to listen and to be responsible for demanding that the governments and authorities of all countries change their rhetoric on sexual violence and change their legal system. We must insist on visibility.

Our organization is small, consisting exclusively of survivors, but we feel, thanks in part to your support, that our voices matter. The members of SEMA Ukraine support each other and other survivors, and we fight to make sexual violence a separate evidence of genocide and to hold all guilty parties criminally and materially responsible at the national and international levels.

We promote the concept of Compassion and Resilience.


The Russian people will be held responsible for this shameful page in their history and their efforts to revive the old empire by force.

Sexual violence is one of the least convicted war crimes in the world. It is world’s the deepest silence. Because of the taboos and stigmas that accompany it, it still remains nameless, unheard, and therefore unconvicted. But I believe that the world is changing even in the middle of such an atavistic, patriarchal phenomenon as war, grand changes are born. A quarter of the Ukrainian army today are women, they have become visible. In the second year of the war, women could already be in the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in combat positions, and in the fourth year of the war, a law was passed to provide equal rights and opportunities for women and men during military service. Today, women are working and protecting us as tankers, snipers, platoon and company commanders, combat medics, drivers, drone operators, artillerywomen, sentries and patrols. Women war reporters report from the combat zone, and most of the volunteers are women.


Thus, gender inequality continues to exist, but the imbalance is slowly reducing; discrimination exists, but human rights organizations are developing and growing visibility and publicity; traditionalists are reluctantly learning to use feminine terms; hierarchical society is nervous, but accepts its ineffectiveness and is being transformed.

The ten-year liberation war has a female face and a male face at the same time. Or rather, many female, male and non-binary faces.


In this war, we are fighting for freedom in all its senses. And yes, unfortunately, we are paying the highest price.

But we have no choice, if the Russians occupy Ukraine, at best I and people like me will be killed, at worst most Ukrainians who speak Ukrainian or have at least once been photographed with the flag of our country will be tortured, raped, abused and spend years in prison. We have no other land to move to. And we have no other life that we can live without pain. But we have today's right to rebel, to rise up, to stand in a common circle, to disagree with discrimination, to unite. Ordinary people have much more influence than they think. The voice of millions of people in different countries can change world history faster than the United Nations’ intervention.

War turns people into numbers. We can give people their names back, and give the survivors dignity, visibility, and the feeling of not being alone. No one can completely compensate for the damage and ease the pain, but together we can recognize this pain, show respect for those who feel it and rise up together.

Thank you for being together today, thank you for having space and respect for the pain of others, thank you for intending to take action, for rebelling, for loving and for being visible together.


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